I awoke to a sharp rapping on my door. I wasn't in the bed, and I had to blink a couple of times before I realized why that was. I was sitting with my back to the wall, looking at the bed where Kimberly was still asleep.
“Idiot!" I hissed, getting to my feet. “Can't do anything right!"
I had meant to stay awake all night to keep an eye on her. With the state she was in, I was worried that she might do something dangerous if I let her out of my sight. Obviously, I had failed, and I continued berating myself all the way to the door.
“Who is it?" I asked softly, trying not to wake Kimberly up.
Instead of answering, whoever was on the other side unlocked the door and opened it. I had to step backwards to keep from being hit, and was completely unsurprised when Victor stepped inside.
“Wake the girl," he said briskly. “You're leaving."
Just as before, I wanted to ask him what was going on, but was too afraid to speak without permission. Instead, I went straight to the bed and shook Kimberly awake.
“Go away!" she said, clamping her eyes shut.
“Wake up," I ordered her as gently as I could. “We're leaving."
This got her attention, and she immediately sat up. “Where are we going? Am I going home?"
“I doubt you will be seeing your family again anytime soon, young lady," Victor said, and I could almost smell the sadistic satisfaction he got from bashing the little girl's hopes yet again. “I am taking you both to your new pack."
“I don't want to go," she said without hesitation, and buried herself under her covers.
“It's the only way we'll be able to get out of here," I told her, yanking the sheets off of her. She glared icily up at me, and I had to fight to keep from looking away. Geez, even this little girl was enough to intimidate me.
“It'll be okay," I said, trying to sound upbeat. “Let's pretend it's an adventure, all right?"
“It's not an adventure," she grumped as she finally got out of bed. “I don't want to go anywhere with you."
“Children these days," Victor mused, watching us with obvious amusement. “They're not grateful for anything you do for them."
I shot him a sharp look. Did he have to antagonize her like that, after everything she'd already been through?
“Don't look at me that way," he commanded, and my head immediately snapped downwards to look at the floor. “Both of you gather your belongings and come with me."
He knew full well that we didn't have anything to take with us except the clothes on our backs, so he turned and marched smartly towards the door. I looked down at Kimberly, who still looked mad enough to punch a hole in the wall, and offered her my hand.
“No," she said, slapping my hand away and going after Victor. “I don't need your help."
I sighed, and followed her into the hallway. This wasn't going to be easy. I had never allowed myself to think it would be, and I had known from the beginning that she would probably hate me. Still, knowing in advance hadn't prepared me for it in the least.
The elevator ride to the Corridor of Doors was completely silent. I stole glances at Victor whenever I thought he wasn't looking, but couldn't get a reading on his mood. Part of me wanted to trust him. I may not have liked the long haired snob, but surely Mr. Wrogan wouldn't allow him to put me and Kimberly in a horrible pack. No matter how many times I told myself this, though, I could never believe it.
“Your pack will be like your family," Victor said as he ushered us through a door, onto a street I'd never been on before. The familiar signs rising above the trees told me we were back in my hometown again, and gave me a general idea of where we were.
Kimberly huffed when she heard this, but said nothing. I'm pretty sure Victor had worded it that way on purpose.
“They are a small pack," he went on. “Mr. Wrogan requested that specifically, so that they could focus more attention on you and the girl. After all, you're both still very new to all of this."
I was able to ignore the way Victor continued to call Kimberly “the girl" by focusing on his description of the pack. It was a small one, he said. That was good, because I didn't think either me or Kimberly were ready to be surrounded by werewolves. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, I thought, finally feeling a bit of hope rising up in me.
As if he could sense my little balloon of optimism, Victor promptly stuck a needle into it.
“They call themselves the Swag Pag," he told us.
Immediately, I felt a pit form in my stomach. “The Swag Pag?" I echoed back.
“They call it that because pack doesn't rhyme with swag," he explained. “You'll soon learn that they care a great deal about their swag."
“You're joking," I said weakly, unable to keep myself from imagining what that word called to mind. Men who thought gangs were the coolest thing since sliced bread, spiteful women with egos big enough to fill an ocean liner, and pants that never got pulled up past the wearer's butt crack.
“Oh, I am completely serious," Victor argued, not breaking his stride as he led us down the street. I impulsively took Kimberly's shoulder and forced her to stop walking. I don't know if she understood what “swag" meant, but those were not the kinds of people I wanted a five year old girl to live around.
“Don't stop," Victor commanded me. “Keep up!"
Immediately, I started after him again. I cursed myself and my weak will, and at the same time tried to give myself some small measure of comfort. Maybe it wouldn't be all bad. I mean, not everybody who valued swag had to fit the stereotype, right? Despite this, I could feel my breath getting more frantic with every step I took until I was hyperventilating.
Victor led us up the driveway of a house, and knocked on the door. I could hear the heavy pulse of rap music coming from inside- and I felt it too. The music had been cranked up so loud that it shook the concrete patio under our feet. We waited for half a minute before the door opened, revealing a massive black-skinned man wide enough to fill the doorframe. And, just as I'd suspected, there was enough empty space in the seat of his pants to put a small car.
“Tyler," Victor said, and I could hear the disapproval in his tone, “it is customary for the alpha to be the one to welcome news additions to the pack."
Tyler looked us all over with disinterest, and then jerked his head backwards. “Living room."
He turned and led the way into the house. With the door open, the music inside was even louder, and I suddenly wanted to cover Kimberly's ears to keep her from hearing all the horrible things it was saying.
“Go on," Victor instructed us, having to raise his voice to be heard. “Don't keep them waiting."
All right, I thought. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
This time when I reached out to take Kimberly's hand, she didn't resist. I took a deep breath, and stepped into the house. The odor assaulted my supersensitive nose the moment I set my foot down, and I cringed at the foul mixture of alcohol, cigarettes, and body odor. The walls had once been painted white, but were now stained urine yellow. The carpet was so filthy that it crunched underfoot- except for the parts where it was soggy. I really didn't want to think what that may have been. Victor stepped in behind me and Kimberly, and if he was disgusted by the state of the house, he was too professional to show it. I, myself, was already on the verge of throwing up. Did he really expect us to live here?
“You cannot keep your alpha waiting," he said, closing the door behind us as if to make a point. We were not leaving this house. “Keep moving."
Gingerly, I walked down the hallway, trying to see the wet places and avoid them. Kimberly had a death grip on my hand, though I'm not sure if she realized it. The rap music became even louder, though I wouldn't have thought it possible, when we came to the door leading to the living room- and it was then that I saw my new alpha for the first time.
“Yo, Tyler," a scrawny man shouted over the music. He was lounging in a La-Z-Boy chair with his feet propped up, a cigarette in one hand while his other arm was wrapped around a dark-skinned woman. “I didn't tell you to let nobody in!"
Tyler was standing at the back of the room, arms crossed in front of himself like a bouncer. He looked away from the football game that was on TV, his face still showing absolutely no emotion.
“Majestic," was all he said. His voice was so deep that he could clearly be heard over the headache inducing music.
The alpha turned back to look at us. “Thought you weren't gonna be here for another three hours."
“I was very clear that I would be here with the new wolves at seven o'clock sharp," Victor argued, holding himself an air of superiority. Compared to the other people in the room, he could have been a king.
“Yeah, whatever," the alpha said, sticking his cigarette in an ash tray and getting up. The woman he was holding gave a disappointed whine, and then sent us a hateful glare.
“Okay, so yeah, I'm D.K.," the alpha said, spreading his arms wide as if he were expecting a round of applause, which only caused his pants to slip another few inches lower. “I'm the one in charge around here. I tell you to do something, you do it. If you gonna stay with us, that's all you gotta know. Got it?"
I hesitated. This guy, D.K., claimed to be the alpha, but I was finding it hard to believe. I already mentioned that he was scrawny, but anybody could have been called scrawny compared to Tyler. D.K. was slimmer than the woman he had been holding when we walked in, the one who still looked like she wanted to stab my eyes out. Heck, even I was bigger than he was! His arms were well muscled for their size, but his wrinkled white wife beater still hung from his torso as loosely as his pants hung from his hips.
“Yes? No?" he asked impatiently, looking from me to Kimberly as if we were both stupid. “Which is it?"
“Would it be possible to turn your, ah, music down a little?" Victor asked, as if he were finding it hard to call it music. “I can barely hear myself think."
“If I turned it down any more, it'd be off," D.K. snapped, shooting Victor a dirty look. “Don't disrespect me in my own house, old man."
Victor turned severe eyes on D.K. “You forget your place, wolf."
D.K. looked taken aback for a moment, but then held up his hands. “All right, all right. Chill." I noticed that he still made no move to turn down the music.
“So, what is it?" he demanded, turning back to me. “You gonna do everything I tell you, or are you gonna get out of my house?"
“They're staying," Victor answered for us. “And they are both very grateful for your hospitality, Dalton."
Again, D.K. gave Victor a dirty look.
“My name is D.K.," he spat. “It stands for Da King, which is what I am around here. Don't be pickin' fights in my castle, man."
Victor raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “Oh, is that what it stands for? I will have to inform the archivists at Majestic that their records are wrong. They have you listed under Dalton Kremshaw."
D.K.'s eyes went wild with anger. “What did you say to me, you stupid, pasty little…"
“Honey, baby, stop it," the woman cried dramatically, hurrying across the room to hug him. “Please don't let the wizard man make you mad, boo!"
As I watched this, I fought the urge to recoil. I had only been in this house five minutes, and I'd already witnessed almost as much drama as I'd seen spending three days at Majestic's headquarters.
D.K. stroked the woman's hair for a few seconds while she whimpered and crooned comforting words to him. He never took his eyes off Victor, but I could sense that he wasn't going to do anything.
“Fine, then," he said, finally. “They can stay. But you need to get your white butt out of here."
“As the pack's alpha demands," Victor said smoothly, and gave him a low bow. D.K. seemed to accept it as a sincere show of respect, but I couldn't help but wonder if I was the only one who could detect the mage's sarcasm.
“Welcome to your new home," he said, giving me and Kimberly one last look before turning around and heading for the door.
D.K. stood there, fuming silently for a whole minute, with the woman's armed wrapped around him. Finally, he turned to me and Kimberly.
“The only reason that fool ain't leaving in a body bag," he said, jabbing his finger at us, “is because I'm in a good mood."
I wasn't sure what to say to this, so I just nodded. D.K.'s eyes narrowed.
“I'm yo alpha now, got that?" he went on. “That means you do what I say, when I say it, understand?"
“A- all right," I agreed.
“Did I say you could talk?" he shouted suddenly, shoving the woman away to confront me. “Did you hear me tell you to speak?"
I almost answered him, but then thought better of it and shook my head instead.
D.K. pointed his finger in my face. “You don't speak unless I tell you to. You stay quiet otherwise, got it? I wanna hear you say yessir!"
“Yessir," Kimberly and I chorused together.
D.K., apparently satisfied, took a step back and ran his eyes over both of us. I resisted the urge to shiver when I thought of what was probably going through his mind.
“What's your names?" he asked at last.
“I'm A…" I began, but was cut off again when he waved his hand dismissively.
“Screw it, I don't care," he said, and made his way back to the overstuffed chair where the woman waited with a new cigarette. “We got three rooms here. Me and Kaylie share one, and Tyler gets the other. You two sleep in the last one. Down the hall past the bathroom. Don't make noise, got it?"
“Yessir," I said again before turning and leaving the room. Kimberly went with me, her hand still gripping mine so tightly that her knuckles turned white.
It was immediately obvious why D.K. had given us the room he did. There was no bed, but garbage littered every inch of the floor. Empty pizza boxes, cigarette cartons, filthy clothes, and old magazines displaying disgusting pictures, all in haphazard piles threatening to fall over if you breathed on them the wrong way.
“I don't want to live here," Kimberly whimpered.
“I know," I said, trying to sound brave and failing. “Neither do I."
I could see her eyes turning red, and her breathing made it clear she was trying to keep from sobbing.
“I want out," she said, shaking her head wildly. “I want out!"
“Kimberly, Kimberly, it's okay," I said, getting down on my knees and giving her a hug. She didn't return the hug, but she buried her face in my shoulder, soaking my shirt with her tears.
“I'll take care of you," I promised her, stroking her hair comfortingly. “I'm here for you."
“I want my mommy and daddy!" she bawled.
But you can't have them, I thought, feeling as if somebody was gouging my heart out with a hot poker. Because of me.
We stayed there for a few minutes, Kimberly sobbing into my shoulder, until a loud bang came from the door.
“I thought I told you not to make any noise!" D.K.'s voice yelled at us from the other side. “Shut up in there!"
After that, Kimberly fell silent. Sighing, I gave her shoulder an encouraging pat, and stood up to survey the mess D.K. had thrown us in. It was still early morning, and neither of us had gotten much sleep. Since there was no furniture for us, we would have to make do with sleeping on a clean section of carpet. There was no way I was going to touch that disgusting junk with my bare hands, so I resorted to kicking it. Five minutes later, the center of the room was clean, or as clean as anything in that house could be, and a new pile of trash stood tall and proud in the corner.
“Come on," I murmured to Kimberly, gently pulling her onto the bare carpet with me. “Let's get some sleep."
Kimberly was only too willing to oblige. She let me pull her to the center of the room, and lay down with me. There were no pillows of covers, and the floor was a long shot from the five star hotel beds at Majestic, but I told myself to get used to it. Things weren't going to get better anytime soon.
I could feel Kimberly trembling beside me, so I reached out and wrapped my arms around her. I knew I was still probably her least favorite person on the planet, but in truth the hug wasn't just for her. My life hadn't been turned upside down, it had been blasted into orbit and body-slammed back down to earth. I felt like I was drowning in everything that I didn't understand, and at that moment Kimberly had become my life preserver. She was all that was keeping my head above the water- not because I needed her to protect me, but because she was the only purpose I still had in this chaotic life. Without her I was nothing, and so I hugged her as tightly as I could without waking her up, and waited for sleep to come to me…
NEXT TIME: Amber spends her first day with the Swag Pag, and finds out just how horrible an alpha D.K. is.